This Teacher Has So Much Faith In The Class Of 2021

I am almost three times as old as the average age of my students this year.

I remember rotary phones, VHS, Walkmans, leaded gasoline, and the release of the first Star Wars movie.

I remember the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union, Columbine, and 9/11.

This year’s graduating class did not experience those things firsthand. They will have their own life-defining moments  – like the pandemic. Never in my career as a teacher have I experienced what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on schools. I sincerely hope it never happens again.

But I want to say as a teacher of seniors and as a parent of a senior who graduated last year without a traditional ceremony that I have never had as much faith in a graduating class as I have this one.

No. I am not awarding the Class of 2021 with some kind of title or moniker or designation. I am simply saying that I see in them aspects that I have not encountered before in a group of students who have had to deal with circumstances beyond control and seen them proactively do something about it.

I have not come across a group of seniors who were as excited at the opportunity to vote in elections this past year and wanted to make their voices heard. I have not come across a group of students who have performed as much service work as they have. And this class had to confront the very realities of what is important in life at an age where they can learn from it and then do something about it with others in mind.

This group thinks about the environment, health care, student debt, socioeconomics, poverty, societal dynamics, and politics in such a more open and active way.

And they are not afraid to talk to others and put actions behind words.

I tell most everyone who asks me, “What is the most difficult part of your job?” that it is the adults and never the students. Adults can get set in their ways and appeal so much to tradition and how things were done “in their day” that they forget that many things in the world change and that there exists so many other points of view and perspectives.

I hope there was a stage for each graduating senior to walk across this school year.

But considering what circumstances are like now and the world we had already given them, I don’t hope that this graduating class can thrive and make a positive impact for others.

I already know they will.

Pick A Side, State Superintendent. Either Rubber Stamp Policy Or Fight For Funding.

This week a judge told the NCGA to start funding the NC public school system as directed by the results of the Leandro case.

But of course, GOP lawmakers balked at it.

Sen. Deanna Ballard’s words seemed rather straightforward.

Now is the time for the state superintendent to make a public decision. Will she keep rubber-stamping the words of GOP stalwarts as far as education funding is concerned, or will she start fighting for the funding that the schools need and courts declared?

North Carolina Can Recruit And Retain More Career Teachers When It Starts RESPECTING The Profession

When I see a bill such as this which quickly brings people into public schools as classroom teachers, then it makes me think why this state needs to do this.

Yes. There is a shortage of people to fill positions in schools. There is a shortage of teacher candidates. No secret here.

But the pandemic did not cause this; the North Carolina General Assembly did with actions like these over the last ten years:

  1. Manipulated Narrative on Teacher Pay 
  2. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed 
  4. Push for Merit Pay 
  5. “Average” Raises
  6. Health Insurance and Benefits Changes
  7. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) 
  8. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests 
  9. Less Money Spent per Pupil When Adjusted For Inflation
  10. Removal of Caps on Class Sizes 
  11. Sacrificing of Specialties in Elementary Schools
  12. Jeb Bush School Grading System 
  13. Cutting Teacher Assistants
  14. Opportunity Grants 
  15. Unregulated Charter School Growth 
  16. For-Profit Virtual Charter Schools 
  17. Innovative School District 
  18. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program And Now Its Smaller Version 

And along the way, the North Carolina General Assembly eroded maybe the one thing that helps to recruit and retain career teachers: respect for the profession.

To have respect is to have a deep feeling of admiration for someone because of his abilities, qualities, and value. It is understanding that someone is important and should be taken seriously.

In place of respect, the NCGA has tried to convince the public that “rewards” are more valuable.

But they aren’t.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be speaking highly of principals. Respect would be not ever allowing our average principal salary to rank next to last in the nation.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

We have seen what a lack of respect for teachers has done to our state in a short amount of time. Where we once were considered a flagship state system, we are now in a state of regression. So while I will not decline a “reward” of a sustained pay raise, I will tell my lawmakers that affording more respect to teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants could go a long in helping stop the attrition of teaching talent in North Carolina.

Why? Because if you respect something you will show it through your actions, not just through campaign speeches and vague promises.

NCGA Further Censoring History Under The Cover Of The Pandemic?

Stuck in a bill meant to address public education provisions meant to help schools during the pandemic is an interesting paranoid provision.

Its purpose is to allow a “DELAY” in “IMPLEMENTATION OF SOCIAL STUDIES CHANGES” that were just voted on by the NC State Board of Education.

Actually it’s a slap in the face of the many people who worked on those standards – actual educators.

Interesting that one of the sponsors of that bill is Sen. Deanna Ballard from northwestern NC.

A staunch advocate of “school choice” and charter schools, Ballard actually has commented on issues of race and school choice.

Sen. Ballard represents parts of five counties in northwestern NC: Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga, and Wilkes. Those counties house three of the over 170 charter schools in the state. Those charter schools are Bridges Academy in Wilkes County, Milennium Charter Academy in Surry County, and Two Rivers Community School in Watauga County.

And then there was this yesterday:

Financial irregularities seem to be a more pressing matter for the senator – not trying to censor what she may think might be meant in the presentation of curriculum put together by actual social studies content experts.

You Think We Have Enough Educators For Next School Year?

When current NCGA stalwarts came into power about a decade ago they started a plan to weaken a profession – the teaching profession.

Here is a short list of what the NCGA has done this to public schools in North Carolina:

  1. Teacher Pay – Manipulated raises to make it appear that the “average” teacher salary raise is higher than “actual” raises.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed.
  4. Push for Merit Pay and Bonus Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition.
  5. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation has also taken away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
  6. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools.
  7. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.
  8. Reorganization and a Weakening of the Department of Public Instruction – It all started with HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began.
  9. Less Money Spent per Pupil – When adjusted for inflation.
  10. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – The math is simple: more students per teacher.
  11. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement.
  12. Cutting Teacher Assistants –  NC has lost nearly 7500 teacher assistant jobs in the last ten years.
  13. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But it is the least transparent system in the nation.
  14. Charter Schools – Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students. Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools.
  15. Virtual Charter Schools – There are two virtual charter academies in NC. Both have been run by for-profit entities based out of state. Both also have rated poorly every year of their existence.
  16. Innovative School District – Only one school is part of this ISD which has its own superintendent and was really was never wanted in the first place.
  17. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”. Yes, it was reintistited, but as a shadow of its former self.
  18. Class Size Chaos – It was never funded by the NCGA.
  19. Municipal Charter School Bill – Passed as a local bill, it now has gone statewide to literally allow for segregated schools.

And we are working without a new budget and talks between the chambers at the NCGA so far this session have not even yielded any thing new as far as budgets are concerned.

Our schools of education have seen over a 30% decrease in teacher candidates.

More and more teachers are retiring at earlier stages of their careers than originally planned.

An interesting report appeared on nbcnews.com this past weekend talking about our nation’s teacher shortage.

It starts with this:

For the past several years, the Economic Policy Institute releases a report on what they call the “teacher pay penalty” Here is their most recent recent edition of its report on teacher pay in comparison to other college graduates before the pandemic set in.

While the national average in this given year almost hit 20%, here in North Carolina it was greater, so much that it put NC 44th in the nation out of 51.

Imagine what shortages we might have this next school year in both teachers and teacher candidates.

What The #$%^? Four Glaring Double-Standards Championed By The NCGA In Regards To Public Education

Just a few days ago, the NCGA passed HB324 about what is taught in schools as far as “history is concerned.”

It is part of that nebulous anti-CRT movement.

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Then just this week State Supt. Catherine Truitt delivered this:

So she wants more examples of how other groups based on race, culture, ethnicity have been marginalized within socio-economic and legal frameworks by white people mostly property owning white males?

Then there has been talk of “transparency.”

Here’s House Bill HB755:

But according to the most recent Duke University report on the North Carolina voucher system, those same lawmakers want absolutely no transparency as far as how that tax payer money is being spent.

There’s been a lot of talk about “indoctrination” as well – so much that this was established by our new Lt. Governor Mark Robinson who has yet to discuss what his witch hunt has produced so far.

Then there is this from Kris Nordstrom’s recent report on NC’s vouchers:

Nearly all voucher students (92 percent) are attending religious schools, more than three quarters of which use a biblically-based curriculum presenting concepts that directly contradict the state’s educational standards.

And then there is the matter of funding schools. When the Lendro Report was released last year it stated without a doubt the need to invest more in our public schools even stipulating minimum amounts to invest in actual areas.

It is important to look at the entire report – Sound Basic Education for All – An Action Plan for North Carolina.

These are the 12 basic findings listed below.

  • Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
  • Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
  • Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
  • Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
  • Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
  • Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
  • Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
  • Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
  • Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
  • Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
  • Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
  • Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.

But with another budget cycle coming up, we get this from the very lawmakers who have ignored the findings of that report.

Deliberate contradictions.

So, NC Policy Maker Who Wants To Change How We Teach History, How Would You Present This To A Class?

Exactly 100 years ago today:

That is a screenshot from History.com.

As many as 300 Black people were killed that day and over 30 blocks of the Greenwood neighborhood including a part known as “Black Wall Street” were unterrly dstroyed.

Many of those who were in the white mobs that committed this atrocity were actually deputized by the city of Tulsa and were provided weapons.

Many of the Black men who tried to defend the Greenwood neighborhood were World War I veterans.

What if I presented this information to a class of students as a history teacher (especially a day after this country celebrated MEMORIAL DAY) and honestly told them that I had never heard about this incident while I was a secondary education student?

Would this incident in which race, socio-economics, law, housing, finance, and violence all came crashing into one another be considered “indoctrination” in the eyes of those lawmakers who never taught in public schools and who are trying to pass legislation like the following?

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In fact, it would be nice to hear how State Supt. Truitt or Rep. Tim Moore would present this important piece of history in a social studies class.

And that “not mentioning it at all in a class so as to be safe and sanitary” approach is not a valid reply at all. In fact, it would scream

Let’s “Talk Poverty” And Consider Its Effects On Public Schools

Earlier this week one of Sen. Phil Berger’s cronies in the NCGA tweeted this:

“Billions of dollars in unreserved cash” is what he said.

Then this is reported by Carolina Forward today on Twitter:

It links to a report by Talk Poverty, an initiative from the Center of American Progress, about levels of poverty in each state. North Carolina does not sit very well in the rankings.

Overall we are 40th out 51.

41st in child poverty.

Nothing “systemic” here, is there?
And when it comes to Hunger and Food Insecurity:

Unemployment Insurance:

And Health Insurance Coverage:

North Carolina has one of the nation’s most miserly unemployment benefit systems, never expanded Medicaid benefits financed by the federal government, still maintains the lowest minimum wage legally possible, and is one of a few states to outlaw collective bargaining rights for public employees.

But we have “billions of dollars in unreserved cash?”

Just think about how those factors in a student’s life could affect performance in schools. From EdNC.org:

From “High-Octane Growth” In Public Education Spending To “No Comprehensive Spending Plan” In Months: Revisiting The NCGA’s Mission To Defund Public Schools

Remember that this state has not had a new budget in three years.

North Carolina has one of the nation’s most miserly unemployment benefit systems, never expanded Medicaid benefits financed by the federal government, still maintains the lowest minimum wage legally possible, and is one of a few states to outlaw collective bargaining rights for public employees.

A recent report from a landmark legal case that had been waged for over 20 years (Leandro) literally showed where under-funding of public education in North Carolina has been and still is occurring.

And now we are playing with cutting corporate taxes even more from a level that already ranks the lowest in the country. From Sen. Wiley Nickel this past week:

The argument from Sen. Phil Berger and his cronies is that we have had surplus budgets these last few years that necessitates all of these tax cuts they are proposing in a budget that the NC Senate is is no hurry to even release a draft of.

In other words, unreserved cash occurs when there is a deliberate withholding of funds in budgets for much needed social services like public education, unemployment, and other state financed networks that benefit North Carolinians.

It’s like my giving my kids an extra hundred dollars at Christmas as a “present” when I refused to fully fund necessities throughout the year.

It’s rather funny that Sen. Newton who delivered that gem of a tweet above talks about all of this surplus money when just a couple of years ago he did the following because there were not enough resources for teachers to purchasee needed items.

From the Oct. 8th, 2018 edition of the Independent Tribune out of Cabarrus County:

Staples

On Monday afternoon, teachers at Royal Oaks Elementary and Northwest Cabarrus Middle School were asked to stay after school for a quick staff meeting.

When they walked into their media centers to see some special guests— including Senator Paul Newton— they knew something was up.

Newton has teamed up with the Cabarrus County Education Foundation and Staples to present certified classroom teachers at all of the schools in the Cabarrus County Schools district with a $100 Staples gift card to use for school supplies.

The foundation kicked the giveaways off with these two schools and plans to visit all of the others to give out gift cards in the next few weeks.

“One of the things we know is that teachers end up spending a lot of their own money for classroom supplies. One of the things we kind of look at and try to figure out how best to support you guys with that,” Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Lowder told the Royal Oaks teachers after the surprise was revealed. “This past summer the North Carolina legislature and the senate tried to take up that issue too and deal with ways they may help with that area. We just want to say thank you to him (Newton) and the North Carolina legislature and senate and what they are trying to do to help our teachers.”

It’s that same duplicitous hypocrisy that Berger is using right now as his branch of the NCGA is not offering a new budget while both the governor and the NC House have released their versions.

“No Comprehensive Spending Plan?”

But just months ago, Berger was talking about “high-octane growth.”

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It makes reference to this July 2020 publication from the NEA which is the national teacher union of which NCAE is a state affiliate.

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And this is what Berger highlighted:

Here’s a few of the topline rankings for North Carolina:

· 2019–20 increase in K-12 funding: #1 in the Southeast (#7 in the country)

· 2019–20 increase in K-12 funding per student: #1 in the Southeast (#6 in the country)

· 2018–19 increase in public school instructional staff salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#4 in the country)

· 2018–19 increase in teacher salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#3 in the country)

What should be noted here is that these rankings really are based mostly on average change in dollars spent – not actual amounts. When the state ranks in the bottom part of the charts and then invests a little money, the percentage increase can look deceptively appealing. Berger calls it “high octane growth.”

Not really.

That report highlights almost 50 different “metrics” many for which it gives figures over the last two full years available: actual numbers from 2017-2018 and 2018 – 2019 and the change between those numbers.

Berger only cherry-picks a few of those metrics and avoids telling you the actual amounts of dollars spent – only the change.

And he neglects to tell you that those figures come from each state’s designated “reporting” entity. And it is not consistent across all states how reporting is done and what variables they use. For NC, that would be DPI. To assume that each state uses the same variables and methods of calculation to come up with their state’s figures is foolhardy at best.

Just think of who has been in charge of DPI the last three-plus years. And think of who has been in charge of those people.

The beginning of that NEA report sets some baselines on average teacher salary and expenditures per student.

Teacher Salary:

The national average public school teacher salary for 2018–19 was $62, 304. State average teacher salaries ranged from those in New York ($85, 889), California ($83, 059), and Massachusetts ($82, 042) at the high end to Mississippi ($45, 105), West Virginia ($47, 681) and New Mexico ($47, 826) at the low end.

The national average one-year change in public school teacher salaries from 2017–18 to 2018–19 was 2.5 percent. The largest one-year decrease was in Louisiana (−0.1%), and the largest one-year increase was in Washington (31.2%).

Expenditures per Student:

The national average per-student expenditure in 2018–19 based on fall enrollment was $12, 994, a gain of 2.7 percent from $12, 654 in 2017–18. The following states had the highest per-student expenditures: New York ($24, 749), New Jersey ($21, 326), and the District of Columbia ($20, 425). Idaho ($7, 459), Utah ($8, 150), and Arizona ($8, 722) had the lowest per-student expenditures.

Average teacher salary in the nation for 2018-2019: $62,304. North Carolina reported an average of $53,940.

Average per-student expenditure (on fall enrollment for 2018-2019) in the nation: $12,994. North Carolina reported an average of $10,165.

We aren’t even near the national average for either of those metrics.

Berger also makes it a point to highlight those selected “rankings” in the context of the Southeast. He doesn’t define exactly what the Southeast is but generally speaking it is a collection of 12 states.

SOUTHEAST REGION OF THE UNITED STATES - Printable handout | Teaching  Resources

The first thing to notice is that the four metrics mentioned in Berger’s press release deal with different school years. The first two come from the 2019-2020 school year. The second two come from the 2018-2019 school year. That’s important because the 2019-2020 numbers will not change for 2020-2021. Why? Berger made sure that the NCGA did not pass a new budget in NC forcing the schools to be funded with the same amounts as the last budget.

Now, take a deeper look at those “topline rankings.”

2019–20 increase in K-12 funding: #1 in the Southeast (#7 in the country)

That’s from page 57.

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That change from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 for North Carolina was 5.15%. The fact that an extra $500 per year for students (based on attendance) would create that percentage change tells you more about the less than average amount we as a state spend per student. Ranking #7 in that metric for percent change when it is still almost $3,000 below the national average is really nothing to brag about.

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· 2019–20 increase in K-12 funding per student: #1 in the Southeast (#6 in the country)

That’s from page 56.

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It’s the same in this respect as the one before except in this one the funding per student is based on actual enrollment and not who actually attended.

That change from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 for North Carolina was 4.60%. Ranking #7 in that metric for percent change when it is still almost $3,000 below the national average again is really nothing to brag about.

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· 2018–19 increase in public school instructional staff salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#4 in the country)

That’s from page 25.

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Yes, NC is #4 in the increase of AVERAGE salary in the nation for instructional staff.

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But when you already have a below average salary and raise it even a little, you can claim an average percentage that really is dwarfed by the actual raise.

In this metric, NC supposedly increased the average salary by $2,706. Still very much below the national average.

By over $10,000.

· 2018–19 increase in teacher salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#3 in the country)

That’s from page 26.

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Yes, NC is #4 in the increase of AVERAGE salary in the nation for teachers.

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We went from 32 to 30. And still well below the national average.

But something is a little odd here: the average salary of instructional staff and the average salary of teachers in NC is reported to be the same. How can different metrics show the same result? No other state in the Southeast even shows the same salary and nationally North Carolina is one of 8 states in the nation to do that. Just compare pages 25 and 26.

It seems that DPI reports an average salary of a teacher to include the averages of principals and AP and other people who are not actual classroom teachers but fit in a broader category of “Educators.” That changes the numbers. In essence, the average teacher salary that is touted in North Carolina takes in consideration administration and other certified staff at the school site. Not just teachers.

No one else in the Southeast measures average teacher salary in the same way. That misrepresents NC and it is intentional.

And of the eight states that do that type of reporting, NC is by far the lowest ranked of the bunch.

NEA can only report what the state gives them. So, DPI gives numbers that DPI knows uses different calculations in some metrics and then the state powers-that-be who control DPI can then even further manipulate how those numbers can be interpreted.

Go back to those four metrics that Berger highlights in his post without fully explaining them. They “list” NC as #1 in the Southeast. But that’s based on percent increase from year to year.

Look at actual numbers for the 2018-2019 numbers reported for the 12 southeastern states.

In average salary for instructional staff, North Carolina ranks 7th out of 12.

In average teacher salary, North Carolina ranks 2nd out of 12. BUT THIS IS MISLEADING. Look at the average pay for teachers and instructional staff for NC. They are the same. NC is the only one of the 12 on that list that puts all certified staff in that category so in relation to all of the other states listed, NC’s is inflated. ADD TO THAT, NC USES LOCAL SUPPLEMENTS IN ITS CALCULATIONS. Therefore, NC is taking credit for an uneven local supplement system that is controlled by the LEA’s, not the state.

That second place finish was because of performance-enhancing measures. And don’t forget that NC has eliminated graduate teacher pay bumps and longevity pay.

In the case of expenditures per student, NC ranked 8th out of 12.

Ask Berger to explain all of that.

He might have to redefine what “high-octane growth” is.